CD Review of Changing Horses by Ben Kweller
Ben Kweller: Changing Horses
Recommended if you like
Ben Folds, Ben Lee, Ryan Adams
Label
ATO
Ben Kweller:
Changing Horses

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

B
en Kweller started his career as an unassuming pop troubadour, a kid barely out of his teens whose natural affinity for melody and harmony made him an immediate contender for the charts. Sure enough, while his output has been agreeable if unexceptional, each of his efforts have been worthy of a listen and an appreciative nod. His earliest endeavors, recorded with his semi-successful band Radish, showed him to be a bit of an upstart, but since starting his solo trajectory nearly a decade ago, he’s taken more of a traditional stance and become better known as a tousled-hair carrot top with a baby face and an agreeable demeanor. A temporary connection with Bens Folds and Lee resulted in an EP (aptly dubbed The Bens) and though the union seems to have been only a onetime pairing, it served to further catapult this particular Ben into a higher profile.

Consequently, Kweller finally came into his own with his last LP, which he confidently called Ben Kweller. However it wholly earned its self-aggrandizing title, especially in light of the fact that it boasted more hooks than a fishing fleet in spawning season. It was that good – an album readymade for radio play… if, that is, radio still had an ear for classic Top 40 fare. Nearly every note sounded familiar from the get-go, which didn’t mean Kweller had gone retro or redundant, but rather, that he had obviously gotten a handle on how to create a celebratory sound that was, in a word, instantly engaging.

Ben Kweller

Nevertheless, those who have followed Kweller’s career faithfully may be surprised to witness his abrupt transformation from that starry-eyed troubadour stance to one of a sturdy back country rambler. Admittedly, it’s something of an unexpected detour, one that makes Changing Horses appear more a matter of changing courses. Kweller’s gone on record to explain that the album was inspired by his small town upbringing, and that it’s the culmination of a long-held desire to bring his rural roots firmly to the fore. Yet, despite the fact new effort leans towards steel guitars, homespun sentiment and easy, ambling tempos, it still retains Kweller’s giddy pop perspective. The consuming affirmation of "Fight," the positive desire of "Hurtin’ You," and the jaunty saunter of "Sawdust Man," "Wantin’ Her Again" and "Things I Like To Do" all find Kweller as upbeat as ever, purveying a sunny disposition and a consistent upward gaze. Okay, it may be awhile before Kweller qualifies for the Grand ‘Ole Opry, but with any luck, Changing Horses will start a stampede towards the admiration and appreciation Kweller clearly deserves.

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